Rivalries tend to have more fans, more pressure, and definitely more nerves than a regular season game. Unfortunately for the Highland Rams football team, the fans, pressure, and nerves, seemed to hurt the team more than help.
On Oct. 13, the Highland Rams football team took on 6A dropouts, the East Leopards, at East. The rivalry game came to an end with players tearing up after a final score of 34-0 for East. Both fans and players sulked from the stadium.
The game started off with a wake-up call when East scored the first touchdown of the game in their first four plays. But Highland had a chance to even things up now that they were on offense after a promising first drive saw them drive all the way to the East 20-yard line.
Peizge Mailei, a sophomore on the football team, ran angry on the drive. This lasted throughout the game as Mailei escaped tackle, providing Highland with its most consistent weapon on offense.
But the first drive stalled, and Highland couldn’t manage the sweet relief of a touchdown after failing on fourth down. From that moment on, East kept stealing more and more of Highland’s momentum.
“After that, we just kinda started killing ourselves. You know, penalties, just stupid missed assignments,” senior Josh Mayeda said. “So, really we just killed ourselves after that, just couldn’t move the ball after that.”
East’s success during the game came from short fields because of Highland turnovers or short punts.
Going into the half down 28-0, everyone on Highland’s side hoped for a change in the second half.
Despite the want for a game changer, Highland still couldn’t manage getting a touchdown. The offense struggled to gain momentum, whether it was the penalties against the team or turnovers.
The defense, however, began to play very well following halftime. Only one more touchdown was let in before the game ended, finishing the game at 34-0 for the East Leopards.
After the game, Highland players found comfort in family and friends arms, losing it after their hard work just not paying off in the end. The majority of these players were seniors, sad to see their high school football career over. Not only was it a loss against rival East, but it was a bad way to end the season because it meant that Highland fell short of the playoffs.
Unlike years prior, Highland won’t be making it to playoffs because of a new change in the UHSAA. Only the top 24 teams were allowed to play past regular season, and Highland didn’t make the cut.
The season overall was disappointing, but Highland does have its reasons. A new coaching staff, cancelled games and practices due to COVID, and injuries among the team definitely gave Highland plenty of obstacles to overcome this season.
The returning Rams, even after the tough season, are able to remain positive and optimistic about what’s to come.
“We’re just going to come back and work, try to get everyone the same page,” Mailei said.
Finishing the season with a record of 1-8, the Highland Rams are already thinking about next year and what needs to change in order to have a more successful season.